Autistic Children Respond to Interactive Learning Technology

While children with autism spectrum disorders are twice as likely to spend lots of time in front of a screen as typical kids, a new study by the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 suggests that there’s an opportunity to use interactive devices to encourage social learning.

The study, conducted by Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., has found that autistic children prefer to spend the bulk of their free time watching television or videos instead of engaging in social media, such as emailing or chatting, writes Janet Maragioglio at Mobiledia.

“Nearly 90 percent of the children studied spend little time interacting with others or engaging in social media activities online, and more than half of them don’t do it at all.”

The study also highlights an opportunity for parents and educators to capitalize on this greater interest that autistic children have in sitting in front of a screen. The study suggests that more parents should seek ways to encourage more interactive, social activities using these vehicles.

And while many schools look to adopt tablets such as Apple’s iPad in the classroom, the portability of mobile devices means they can connect wirelessly to video chatting services, e-mail applications, and social media sites wherever they need to be, providing a perfect opportunity for children who could find in-person encounters particularly difficult.

The super-sensitive touch screens could also double as therapy devices for people with autism and other developmental disabilities, research suggests.

The features that make smartphones and tablets interactive, such as multi-touch technology, could help engage children who might find the world of touch and stimulation overwhelming.

This adaption could transform mobile devices from simple vehicles for entertainment to valuable tools for rehabilitation and learning.

While more and more children spend more time e-mailing, chatting, and interacting on computers and devices, the bridge between what autistic children can engage with and what other children engage with is even smaller.

The increasing availability of tablets and smartphones and a wide range of apps and games to encourage interactivity and fun could help children with AMDs get more out of their screen time, writes Maragioglio.